EVO: Search for Eden (SNES, 1993)

INFO: My “Retro Vault” reviews are not scored. Instead, I just talk about why I have fond memories of whichever game I’m writing about at the time. Generally, I won’t pick out any bad games for the Retro Vault feature, so scoring them is essentially useless anyway. Enjoy the read.

If there is one thing I did not like about the 1990s, it was that Enix-produced games on the Super Nintendo were always insanely difficult to track down in North America. Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen is a great example of this, but this little gem of a game is another… EVO: Search for Eden. In my opinion, this is one of the Super Nintendo’s absolute best games. This is a shame because it is vastly underrated and, shockingly, still a somewhat unknown game!

My first experience with EVO came around 1998 or 1999 when Super Nintendo emulators were the biggest deal on the internet for gamers. Remember all of those shady rom sites that would lead you to free porn (my, how times have changed) or infest your computer with trojans? A lot of them just had dead links. Ah yes, 1999 was certainly the golden age of Super Nintendo emulation. I had a blast playing through all of my favourite classics that my brother and I had owned on cartridges several years before. It was insanely fun to be playing Final Fantasy VI again. However, my main ambition was to try new games. I played quite a few obscure games at the time just to see what was out there. While skimming the rom list of a random website, I saw a name that seemed vaguely familiar. EVO: Seach for Eden. Very slowly, I had a flashback of reading about the game in an issue of Nintendo Power back in 1993 or 1994. I recall the magazine noting that it was a game by Enix (a developer you could always trust prior to their buyout of Squaresoft) and had a very strong emphasis on evolution. I looked at the few screenshots present in the magazine and I was pumped for the game. However, I never saw the game in any stores and it completely dropped off of my radar for several years until I saw the name appear again on that list of SNES roms. I promptly downloaded it, anxious to experience the game that I had been stoked to play as a little boy. The wait paid off and EVO was a bittersweet experience.

Like Nintendo Power said, EVO is all about evolution. You begin the game as a humble little fish with little means of defending yourself, but you will soon end up becoming quite a formidable predator of the sea thanks to the fantastic evolution system of the game which was, in my opinion, well ahead of its time. You see, you can evolve various parts of your body by spending evolution points. You will amass evolution points by killing enemies and eating the meat that they leave behind. You will be able to spend these points in several categories such as jaws, body size and type, tail, hands and feet, and more. It isn’t entirely impossible to end up with different looking creatures each time you play and, in a way, EVO is a lot like an early version of Spore… But different.

How and why does Spore compare to EVO? Well, as I said, you have freedom over what parts of your body you evolve and when. The whole point is to continue evolving to a point where you are strong and skilled enough to take down the local boss and progress to a new stage of evolution. The main difference is that, while Spore was a pretty bland sandbox simulation game, EVO happens to be a very linear platformer/RPG hybrid that focuses on action and character progression rather than… well, whatever the nonsensical focus of Spore was! As I said, EVO is like an early version of Spore, but it definitely hass less casual appeal. Those who are turned off by the idea of having to level up (via upgrading your body) may be turned off a little, though the steep difficulty in some areas will deter a lot of non-serious gamers.

EVO can be a very ruthless game, as boss fights are anything but cakewalks. I was playing EVO on my TV last night (via emulator, I hooked my laptop up to the TV) and handed the gamepad to my brother and roommate who seemed absolutely enthralled by the game, because he had never seen or heard of it before. I watched him play, and it was clear that he was really enjoying it. As a 28 year old someone who doesn’t play too many games anymore, it was really cool to watch him become briefly absorbed in a classic SNES title. It seems that folks in my age range (about 23-30) really dig playing old SNES games, and when they are presented on a television screen with a wireless gamepad? Even better! Anyway, he managed to reach the boss of the first area in the game. Up until that point, he was doing a really good job of evolving the fish creature that we were jointly playing as. He wasn’t having many difficulties playing through the underwater area, but that all changed one the shark boss made his grand appearance. The confrontation with the boss lasted a whole ten seconds, if even that! Our fish had forty five hit points, and the boss would hit for fifteen damage with every single bite. To make matters worse, he would sometimes get two consecutive hits in! We’re talking the first boss here folks. While EVO is a blast to play and might be a fun little game for casual players to get their feet wet with, they’ll definitely struggle against the tough as nails boss fights. They only get harder and harder as the game goes, and I distinctly remember getting stuck on the queen bee (?) boss many years ago and almost rage quitting!

The most enjoyable aspect of the game? Reaching new periods of time and becoming a new creature. For instance, after you beat the shark boss you evolve into an amphibian and get to crawl onto land. After a short time passes, you then become a reptilian creature that you can even turn into a dinosaur! This is easily my favourite part of the game without a doubt. The dinosaur era of EVO is simply a joy to play, and I suspect that anyone who has played the game will agree with me on that point.

Sadly, I have never beaten EVO. I recall getting stuck years ago at a floating maze-like temple in the sky inhabited by bird people or something of the sort. I don’t know exactly how far in this was, but I certainly hope to surpass it on my new playthrough, especially since I am not experiencing EVO as it was meant to be played – on a television screen. I’m glad to have my wireless Logitech gamepad and a laptop that can conveniently be plugged into my 32 inch Dynex television. I am now experiencing EVO for the first time all over again, and I couldn’t be happier.

If you have never played EVO: Search for Eden, then you are certainly missing out.


Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen (SNES, 1993)

INFO: My “Retro Vault” reviews are not scored. Instead, I just talk about why I have fond memories of whichever game I’m writing about at the time. Generally, I won’t pick out any bad games for the Retro Vault feature, so scoring them is essentially useless anyway. Enjoy the read.

I must have only been ten or eleven years old when my brother and I were staying with our grandparents for a few weeks in the summer. He would always bring the Super Nintendo, and one year he happened to rent a rare game by Enix that his friend had talked about called Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen.

Indeed, it was a very rare game. I recall a magazine (probably Nintendo Power) that I read at the time indicate that this game had a very limited distribution. Considering the fact that it was a real challenge to even find the game in Halifax, the capital of my province, said a lot.

I remember it all too clearly. It was a bright sunny day in the village of Mount Denson, and we were cooped up inside looking at the TV. My brother put the cartridge into the Super Nintendo and turned it on, and from there he played the hell out of Ogre Battle. I was just an observer, sitting back on the couch watching in amazement at what looked to be the most amazing game ever. The graphics were very cool when this game was released. The stage maps were simply breath taking.

It would be a little while longer before I would get to play Ogre Battle myself. My brother liked the game so much that he hunted down a copy to buy. Of course, it was his SNES so he played the hell out of it and had control over when I could play, but when I did get to finally sit down and play Ogre Battle, it was simply amazing.

I can’t seem to recall what I felt the first time I ever played the game. Since that day when I first tasted Ogre Battle, I have beaten it dozens of times, and I can’t even count how many times I started new games. What I do know, though, is that Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen has become one of my favourite video games ever. I believe that my brother holds it in the same regard. He often says that he doesn’t really play video games anymore, which is true for the most part, but whenever Ogre Battle is brought up between us he seems to share the same love for it that I do. When it is mentioned around us, we seem to act like two old men reminiscing about the good old days.

Now I could probably go on forever about how Ogre Battle made me feel, but I should probably say why this game holds such a special place in my heart, meaning more to me than other SNES greats such as Final Fantasy VI and Super Mario World.

Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen, is considered an RPG, but I like to think of it more as a fantasy war simulation/strategy game. In Ogre Battle, you take the role of the leader of the rebel Liberation Army who rises up against the corrupt Empress Endora.

The gameplay and mechanics in Ogre Battle are actually really great, and I’ve never seen them repeated except in the N64 sequel, Ogre Battle 64. In Ogre Battle, you literally control an army. You can have up to one hundred in your army and can divide them up into groups of five. The groups, which the game refers to as units, are used in the stages to combat the local bad guys.

Every character has their own name, class, several stats, and so on, Regarding class, any character is free to become whatever their base class allows them to develop into. Fighters can become knights, wizards, samurais, and if you’re really lucky, eventually they may be able to turn into liches. Amazons (female archer characters) can be upgraded into clerics, valkyries and witches. Again, if you are lucky, amazons may eventually upgrade into princesses. There are dozens of character classes in the game and I always find that my army develops differently each time I play, which says a lot considering I have literally played this game over fifty times.

The earliest stages take about ten minutes to beat but, towards the end of the game, you’ll be sitting on the same maps for an hour in some cases. Ogre Battle isn’t a game for people who aren’t serious about the genre. Considering the fact that there are over twenty mandatory stages to plow through, and that many indeed take about an hour, you’re looking at a pretty lengthy game that demands determination and devotion.

As far as I’m aware, Ogre Battle is also one of the first console games to have several endings. There are twelve possible endings, and I definitely know that I haven’t gotten all of them yet. There’s a lot to do in this game from trying to get the best items, best classes, bonus characters, all side quests, the rare and elusive “merchant”, and many other things. Ogre Battle may look simplistic, but it’s quite a deep game and, if you give it a chance, is incredibly rewarding. There is a reason why this game commands so much of my respect. Give it a try if you like RPGs, strategy games, or even war games.

Valkyrie Profile (Retro Review)

INFO: This review was written in the year 2000, therefore I was much younger when I wrote it. The quality of the writing is probably much lower. Don’t grimace too much when you read it, please!

“Enix has always been known for bringing us the goods from Japan and they’ve done it again.”

When I was first looking around for an RPG to buy a few months back, I wasn’t sure what to burn my money on. In my mind then, Valkyrie Profile was just another game sitting on the shelf with the fancy cover art. The third time I saw it for rental I thought, “That’s it. I’m gonna buy it.”

Let me tell you, if I had a choice to buy either Valkyrie Profile or something such as Star Ocean, I’d go with Valkyrie Profile. The graphics themselves, while 2D, are very sleek and attractive. Castles and buildings have a nice sense of realism to them, which adds a lot of depth to a game. The character sprites are all nice looking, with the standard ho-hum attack animations, but there is an exception here… Often you’ll get the opportunity to “purify weird soul.” When you do this, a character will often fly into an attacking frenzy that makes Omni Slash and Lionheart look like child’s play! Arngrim, who wields a large (and I mean large!) is able to final blast, which does mega damage when he has awesome weapons (we’re talking upwards of 50’000 damage). The monster sprites look very impressive as well, but some look a little… Strange… I was impressed greatly by the sprites of such monsters like the zombie dragon or the necrophiliac. Environments you run through are very detailed, every little piece of every wall seems unique.

The music in Valkyrie Profile can be somewhat catchy, but the game has some tracks you’d like to dismantle But for the most part the music fits the scene (notice how I said most!). Now the voices are really something unique. From Suo screaming “Admirable skill, but still no match for me!” to the Valkyrie herself yelling “Nibelung Valesti” when she prepares to assault the opponents. Certain bosses have voices as well, one being the gigantic Barbarossa. The problem with his voice though is that it is all raspy and horrible during combat. When in the field (or towns/dungeons characters often speak back and forth to each other. If you were to close your eyes when they do so, it seems as if you’re near an actual conversation. Very good job here, Tri-Ace.

The sound generates at least 5 points on the overall Sound/Music score, music grabbing a measly 2.5 points for the certain tracks that don’t go with the game (some sound like metal or something…)! The storyline in Valkyrie Profile isn’t incredible, it doesn’t make my jaw drop in awe… Hell, Final Fantasy VI’s spectacular story makes Valkyrie Profile’s dull story seem like a child’s short story or something. None the less, it has it’s good points, and I’m not going to give away any spoilers… As for replayability, you will NEVER have the same game twice. Remember that. There is a lot of innovation in this game… Too bad there weren’t any mini games, or we’d be looking at a game that would be at least 10 times more addictive! In the end, I was somewhat satisfied, but I wanted more. In my eyes, Valkyrie Profile 2 is not impossible.

Final Score